Why It’s So Damn Hard to Leave a Narcissist Behind
The other day my fiancé shared that his sister is trying to come for a visit. She is currently “trapped” in her home, on an acreage with no access to money, no vehicle or freedom to leave. She is caught up in an abusive relationship, where her partner is keeping her isolated from friends, family and freedom to go where she chooses.
This makes me seethe in anger, compassion, and full empathetic understanding. She is caught in the eye of the storm.
I have been in similar shoes to my future sister in law. Toxic, narcissistic relationships have a complexity to them like none other. Narcissists know how to manipulate their spouses and partners in ways that are beyond diabolical. They will feed you with enough love bombing and feigned kindness to fill your emotional cup, right before they drain everything back out, time and time again. If they are being questioned for treating you unfairly or poorly, they react by either soothing the suspicion with loving words and false hope, or they will react by calling you crazy, making you question your own sanity and your own moral compass. you can’t win with a narcissist.
What Others Don’t See
Imagine you see a sheet of black clouds ahead of you, and you can feel the air change with an impending storm. Most of us would avoid getting caught up in the hard rain, the thunder, and the gusting winds. Most of us would make an attempt to stay safely away, warm and dry.
When you are with a narcissist, it looks much different. The narc is so crafted at what they do, they can talk you into walking straight into the storm with them, and when you get close to the eye of it all, they will shove you in, alone, without apology. Once you are in the epicenter, they will stand on the outside, making you feel alone, scared and paranoid. If you dare become angry with them for abandoning you in the eye of it all, they will either bomb you with loving words, or blame you for “making” them shove you. And, you believe them. As they stand just out of reach of the storm’s eye, they will use phrases like, “See? I told you”, or “Oh, come here. Clearly you are not safe without me”. They thrive on their victim’s vulnerability and manipulate them into relying on the narcissist. This is how trauma bonds are formed.
The thing about being in a relationship with a narcissist is that they have chosen their partner very carefully. They KNOW what kind of heart, compassion and empathy they need in a partner, in order to earn control over them. The type of partner they choose will be warm hearted, kind, forgiving, attentive, passionate, and above all, loyal. All of these qualities are crucial in their partner, or they risk losing them. They know that partners who are loyal and kind can be manipulated, like a mound of clay. The narc is a special kind of devious, and their subtle red flags can be easily smoothed over with the “right words” and actions. Kind, loyal, and compassionate partners are easily pushed, and they easily forgive, and the narc is smart enough to use this to their advantage.
Over time, the narcissist will strip their partner of awareness of how disrespectful and callous they are. This happens while you are alone with the narc, and you drain your emotional tank on them. The narc knows how to turn their loving partners into their puppets, pulling on heartstrings, and controlling their partner’s day to day life. One day they are bombing you with words of adoration and affirmation, the next they are making their partner feel stupid, worthless and lesser than. It becomes an emotional rollercoaster for their partner, not knowing from one day to the next what kind of day they will wake to. Slowly, gradually, and surprisingly, the kind, loving partner begins to lose themselves, as the eye of the storm comes closer.
The Eye of the Emotional Storm
Life with narcissistic abuse is extremely toxic and unpredictable. You can live in the most beautiful home, travel, have nice things, be successful in your career and still feel empty, because of your relationship. Unless you have been in the center of this kind of relationship, it is difficult to comprehend what goes on in your mental health.
Let me try and paint a picture for you:
You come home after a long work day and begin preparing supper. The narcissist comes home and yells at you for “making a mess” and stands over you, criticizing everything you try to do. You put the meal on the table, feeling messy, sad and slightly pissed off, and the narc doesn’t thank you for spending your time and energy on feeding them. In fact, they don’t even offer to help clean up “your mess” after you have finished eating.
As you tidy up the kitchen, you question why you allow the narc to make you feel so worthless while you are doing something nice. It eats at you, and you begin to wonder about your relationship, as a whole, and decide to confront the narc on his disrespect.
You search your words carefully before asking, “Why do you need to be so mean when I am doing something for you?”
The narc retorts with a blaming tone, saying something like, “You weren’t cooking for just me. It was also for you. Besides, I always do nice things for you, don’t I? Remember who made the last mortgage payment? Yea, it was me. I deserve a few meals prepared for me, don’t I?”
This is exactly what it feels like to be gaslighted and disrespected. So, when you work up the nerve to talk about how you feel, you feel even worse and dejected. They operate by using your words and your actions against you, not acknowledging the love, thought or emotion behind what you say or do. Instead, they will use what you do as a weapon to destroy your ego and self value.
There are so many other scenarios just like this, or worse, when you live with a narc. They are motivated by controlling you and keeping you under their spell. They tell you how to feel, or how not to feel. They try to control finances, friends, and they keep you from telling the truth about what happens in your household. Often, they will even disrespect you in front of your friends, to prove their upper hand, or they will turn on their charm to woo people they may get something from, in your presence. They might treat attractive women better than they treat you, just so you have to work to earn their admiration. It’s beyond sickening.
Another trait that these narcissists have, is that they will use something you shared with them in strict confidence, to their benefit. One of my most vulnerable and painful moments in the relationship with my narc was when he told me that he “can understand why my father raped me”. We were in the throes of a heated argument, and he knew he was wrong. He had been outwardly flirting with a lady who was at our table at a function. He even went so far as to give her his number, while I was seated beside him. I got up and left the function, and he followed me back to the hotel room, where I was planning my escape from our relationship. I became enraged when he tried to love bomb me with cuddles and soothing words, and he attacked me with the cruel remark about my father’s abuse. That is an example of the evil work of a narc. And, in the end, I couldn’t leave. It would be another 7 years until I found my way out. I was in and out of the storm’s core until the day I finally found my bravado and strength to walk away.
You spend your time in the eye of the storm, worrying, wondering and fantasizing. You put out fires with people who dislike the narc. You make excuses for the narc’s behavior, and brush it off like it’s “just his passion”. You find ways to better yourself, like working out, in order to win the narc’s attention. You look at yourself in the mirror and ask why you aren’t happy, when he has given you a nice, comfortable life. When the narc cuts people out of your life, you try and maintain the peace between them, and if it doesn’t work, you quietly retreat into acceptance of losing them. Over time, it becomes just you and the narc, and a few of his friends that he shows off for. You smile through tears behind your eyes, and graciously greet them at the door, before serving them cocktails and hiding alone in the house. Family members begin to see you change because of your relationship and the wise ones see the damage it’s causing you. If they tell you how they feel and what they see, you deny it or make excuses for your partner, embarrassed by their observations. your life becomes a lie, as you smile through your frustration, and hope for a love bomb to make you feel better about yourself. The only thing keeping you from emotionally drowning, is the occasional love bomb session when your narcissist messes up. You feel trapped, helpless and alone.
What Narcissistic Abuse Is
Most narcs are too cunning to leave you with physical scars. They find other ways to abuse their victims, while they act seemingly innocent and shocked at the accusations of abuse:
Financial Abuse: They take over all of the household money and payments, leaving their victims with no say, no power, and o freedom. They know that without money, their victims cannot leave them.
Emotional Abuse: This is a mixture of lying, gaslighting, blaming, shaming and love bombing. If they mess up, they shower you with love and affection, and often gifts, but if you dare mess up, they will shame you, and make you feel like trash. They manipulate you by making sure, at all times, they know what you are feeling, yet they never share their own feelings. They will intimidate, shame, coerce and guilt you into doing what they want, and will have zero remorse, as they feel entitled to your mental health. They may tell you that you’re overweight, or gauge how much alcohol you drink, or tell you what to do, constantly, and before you know it, you begin to rely on their demands, their requests and their opinions, without even realizing it. They need you to feel inferior to them, as it is the gasoline for their narc engine.
Isolation: Just like my future sister in law is going through, the narc will keep you isolated from friends and family. There are many reasons for this. First, the narc doesn’t want you telling stories of the abuse. Second, if the narc cuts out people from your life, you have no choice but to confide in them and rely on them for everything, including emotional support. Once they have you relying 100% on them, they can mold you anyway they see fit. Narcissists are also extremely jealous by nature, so they don’t want to share you with anyone else, often, not even your own children. Their insecurities do this to them, and in return it becomes your problem. Covid-19 has caused so much more isolation, and it actually worries me how many people are further isolated because of it.
Sexual Abuse: Narcissists will use sex as a power game in a relationship. they will either coerce you to be at their beck and call, or will use with holding sex as a weapon of leverage. Typically narcissists mix sex and intimacy up with love and control. They will pout or shame you if you deny them, or they will shame you and embarrass you if you initiate it. caution must be executed at all times if you fear you are sleeping with a narc.
Physical Abuse: Physical abuse doesn’t always have to be scars, bruises and violence. In fact, many narcissists will only push their victims enough to emit fear. They might grab their victims and say it was for “protection”. When my ex and I got into heated arguments, he would stand with his body in front of me, and would never let me leave the room, or house. he would grab both of my arms and ask me to “just stop” because I was acting crazy. Twice, he pushed me, enough to cause me to fall, and then apologized animatedly saying he didn’t think he pushed me that hard. Once he left bruises on me when he was trying to grab the steering wheel in my car, and told me it was for his and my “safety”. This is ALL physical abuse. it may be worse than that, or perhaps it isn’t as bad as that, but the moment anyone touches your body in a non-consented manner, it is assault or abuse.
I Get It
I have been there. I have been deep in the eye of this kind of storm, and it is brutal. You feel lost, sad, and like a shell of your previous self. You resent the narcissist for how he makes you feel, but you resent yourself more, for allowing his abuse.
You can escape.
You can find your way out, and on the road to recovery.
What I have learned, since I left my toxic abuser behind is this:
There is always someone you can turn to, and who loves you. You have more strength than you know, and once you have left the eye of the storm, the hurricane that you are in, life becomes easier. little by little you sill begin to heal and see a glimmer of who you were, before you got caught up in this hell.
I know it seems so difficult, and you panic over the feeling of losing the life you have with the narc. He (or she) has made you feel powerless and dependent on them. YOU AREN’T!
Trust me when I say there are rainbows past the storm you are living in. You simply need to muster up the strength and the power and make your escape plan.
Narcissistic abuse is the worst and most devious kind of abuse there is, because it changes you and your self image. Narcissists take beautiful, healthy, loving and intelligent people and twist them into dependent, sad, self loathing people, just so they can control them. This is beyond disgusting.
Not many people have spoken up about this kind of abuse because it can feel humiliating, and because it makes you question whether it was even abuse at all. Just because you have no visible scars, and you cannot pinpoint any ONE traumatic event doesn’t mean it isn’t abuse. This came as a shock to me, as well.
Unless you have been in this situation, you will not understand why we can’t leave. We are crippled by many factors in our life with the narc, that keep us trapped. We may not have the financial means, or perhaps we don’t have a vehicle. There is also the chance that we have spent so much time defending the narc’s actions, that we feel we have no one to turn to. Often narcissists will disallow their victims to have a job, and they are the sole caregiver of the children. keeping them isolated.
The eye of the storm of these relationships is all encompassing, and it is beyond difficult to find our way back out. But, there is always a way.
My advice is to get in touch with family and friends. Talk with a therapist (there are many websites that have therapists by phone now and you can be discreet and stay at home). There are people in your world who have seen the horns of the narcissist and they understand that you are not at fault. Often times, friends and family have to “opt out” of a relationship with a narcissist and in the end, they opt out of being close to you as well.
Here is my final thought and message to anyone who is caught up in this kind of stormy relationship. You CAN leave. You don’t need them, in order to sleep, breathe, and eat. They have made you believe that you cannot survive without them, but you can do better than that. You can LIVE without them.
Take a moment to reflect on all of the love and attention you have wasted on the narcissist over your time together. Look in the mirror and aim all of that love, respect, loyalty and kindness on the person in your reflection.
And you will be just fine.